Creekside seventh graders impress in home design contest


I was honored to serve as a judge at the third annual Creekside Middle School Sunrise Home Design Challenge on March 28. It’s a contest where more than 400 seventh grade math and science students form teams and design their own homes using 3D computer technology. They do complicated math to figure out how to make these houses as energy efficient as possible.

The winning team gets their home drawn up as an actual architectural design by Old Town Design Group. The company’s founder, Justin Moffett, said they even incorporated an idea from last year’s winning design into a home that’s soon to be built.

I asked Moffett if these 12- and 13-year-old students would end up working for him one day.

“I don’t know if I can afford them,” he said. “These kids are going places. These are pretty smart and talented kids.”

It was hard to decide which teams were the best. There were professional brochures, expertly edited video presentations, hand-made architectural models, precise charts/graphs and well-rehearsed speeches.

“I think I’m most impressed with the technology that students use,” Moffett said. “We had 3D walk-arounds of the model and 3D-printed models. It’s amazing.”

I actually learned quite a bit about energy efficiency from these kids.

First off, I learned that the easiest way to decrease energy costs is by having fewer windows and making them smaller, because it helps reduce heat loss in the winter through cracks and overheating from sunlight in the summer. But the problem is that people want nice big windows when buying a house. And they provide sunlight, which saves on lighting costs. So it’s a trade-off.

Students try to add solar panels on the roof to provide renewable energy, but they can be costly and they’re not aesthetically pleasing. Plus, if you add trees to provide shade and reduce air conditioning costs, those same trees can also block your solar panels.

Most students decided to plant deciduous trees to provide shade in the summer because they’ll lose their leaves in the winter to allow for sunlight to come in and heat the home during those months. Most students also opted for planting evergreen trees in the northwest side of their homes to block cold winds in the winter.

I learned it’s really hard to trap in heat in the winter and also keep it cool in the summer. The students compared different types of flooring and insulation when it comes to keeping the place warm or cool. But when we looked at the annual energy consumption, there always was a time of the year that it spiked, whether it was in winter or summer.

A few students were energy neutral with their projects. For one, it was because they had a very pointy roof, which allowed for a perfect angle for the solar panels to capture sunlight but trees could still block sunlight coming into the windows below.

Seventh grade teachers Chris Bartley and Jeff Kirch said these students spent most of the month of March putting together these projects. They get a grade for math and science classes and then they separately enter Old Town’s contest, which Kirch said is a great way to expose them to public speaking.

“For many of us growing up, we didn’t really get a chance to do a real presentations for strangers until college,” he said. “So this is a great learning experience.”

Bartley said it’s great to have a learning experience that is applicable to the real world, whether it’s a career in engineering or construction or the common task of buying a home.

“It’s funny because a lot of parents ask what we’re teaching them,” he said. “These students come home and ask about their parents’ energy bills and what kind of insulation they have and what kind of light bulbs they use, which is really great.”